A small trade school in Pasadena promised a road to a better future.
But many students feel like that road has ended in a dead end.
A student emailed NBC4 saying the school she attended on the campus had simply disappeared, before most students received credit for their coursework.
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In April of 2012 friends Stella Hazerian and Jessica Paxton were walking similar paths professionally in jobs that met their bills but left both unfulfilled.
"It was either stick with retail for the next four to five years or do something with myself, do something with my life," Paxton said.
An advertisement for ICC, the International Career College was their fork-in-the-road moment.
Promising nine weeks of hands-on training to become certified dental assistants, for about $1,500, both women enrolled.
"We had about 100 or 110 students overall," said Uwe Gemba, an ICC educational consultant.
Gemba served as a supervisor. His wife, Alice, a board certified dentist, was an instructor.
Gemba said ICC was funded by the Velocity Investment Group, a Chinese-owned firm, with offices in Pasadena, and leased classroom space at near by William Carey International University.
"I had the task to build this school and that’s what I did," Gemba said. "The program was excellent. I thought, 'OK, I will be OK.
Gemba says the original plan was for ICC to move to this campus in Pomona, it was bought by the Chinese investment group that funded the trade school from the city of Pomona for $7 million in March of 2012.
By the summer of 2013, Gemba said, the investment group was having financial problems and stopped funding ICC without warning to anyone.
"It’s shocking, it’s surprising, it’s frustrating," he said.
When students showed up to get their dental assistant certifications, the school they attended was gone.
"I felt like I got ripped off."
So does Gemba.
"I’ve never had such an experience with anything and a broken promise of this kind," he said.
Gemba said he’s still owed $200,000. He said his wife had shut down her dental practice to teach at ICC and the lost income could cost them their home.
"This completely put us in deep dire straits," he said.
"I want my money back!" said Stella Hazarian.
State dental board officials said ICC was not a state-approved school. Their students aren’t eligible for tuition refund under California law.
And after attending classes twice a week, for 9 weeks, Paxton and Hazerian are trained to improve your smile, but it may be a while before they crack one themselves.
"We’ve worked so hard to get somewhere and then we don’t have anything to show for it," Paxton said.
NBC4 tried unsuccessfully to reach someone with Velocity Investment Group. Attorneys with the Securities and Exchange Commission confirm the owner of Velocity is in Hong Kong and is being sued by the SEC for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme.